Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Dir. Anthony & Joe Russo
The days of Dorothy Gale’s naive predicament are long gone: we now desire a humanity behind the spectacle. The idea of something being big and broken is one that currently endears as it suggests an impassioned work by an imperfect creator rather than a detached streamlined output of algorithms generating audience satisfaction. Like the Davids in Prometheus or A.I., we’re anxious to draw back the curtain but we need to believe that somebody is behind it all. Everybody will receive in their feed a different set of takes on Avengers: Infinity War that are tailored to appeal to whatever taste/demographic pattern their data-trail presents, and from my media-bubble the film is unanimously a strange, impassioned work that critics and audiences alike are drawn to and repulsed by for its big broken qualities. It is the same angle that was pushed with Deadpool, Suicide Squad, and Guardians of the Galaxy, but unlike those films which were actually the more dully conservative films of their kin, Infinity War only reveals the impressions of a creator when the film is most quiet- when it is least big and broken.
This is not for lack of trying- following the criticism that Marvel films have ugly flat lighting (which defenders point out comes down to visually dull sets more than the lighting setups- it’s both and the point is that it’s dull), the Russos inject anonymous concept art moodscapes with garish colour palettes which are a welcome change from daylit monochromes, but neither the colours nor the forms ever alter the playing field- these are sets in the sense that they look a certain way and actors stand in front of them. They are ostensibly there for context, and their context is activated through fights, and the fights are justified through talking. To say that the fights are not good fights would require a discussion of choreography and editing, and both of these things are of secondary importance to the talking, which means that each blow landed or missed comes down to where Infinity War‘s dramatic stakes need to be at that precise moment, resulting in rote bludgeonings on either side. It is broken as these things have been since at least 2012, which is more the result of cynical compulsions to audience satisfaction than any sort of human touch. To cut out the middle (the fights) would be to disappoint those wanting action, but none of this is action any way; it’s a sustained cartoon opera where even the arias are covert recitative. This excuses the sets which are the monumentally expensive equivalent of an opera’s painted backgrounds, and the nondramatic wizardry which is nondramatic wizardry, but focussing on context and talking should result in something dramatically satisfying seeing as there will be no catharsis from action in this loud action film.
Thumbhead Marvel overlord Kevin Feige and screenwriter McFeely have said that Brolin’s genocidal Bad Guy is the protagonist of the film which clearly marks Infinity War according to its creators/processes as a film about failure (a la last year’s The Last Jedi). Unlike some other viewers, I found the faint tremble of a heart in this as I am always drawn to failure(s), but unfortunately McFeely et al. use Thanos’ perverse hero status as an excuse to not delineate any clear alternative to genocide in the Good Guys, and this results at best in a kind of aimless teenage angst and worst in the sickly familiar feeling that this is all opposition for the sake of spectacle, and spectacle for the sake of generating content. Looking down the middle where Infinity War so safely aims, it turns out that rather than feeling as a consequence conflicted, painful, this results in something dramatically inert but melodramatically shrill, like hypothetical emotions or queue emotions cues. Yes, the Bad Guy is sympathetic but unlike Killmonger, this is because no effort has been given to showing or even telling anything about his opponents- as far as villains outside of Marvel films go he’s still a genocidal maniac. His Big Decision is echoed in the Good Guys too and is given a drawn out conflict and even poetic denial of closure, such is his curse forevermore, and we know why he’s making hard decisions. As for everyone else the question of Why is answered early on (Star-Lord: Because we’re nice), but never Who or What. In that other blockbuster about failure, conditions are clearly drawn, options are made available, and agents according to their perception of Good choose which options to pursue in order to improve things. Infinity War has none of the patience required to draw the conditions for success or failure beyond Stop the Bad Guy getting the Things, which makes it difficult to identify why certain individuals are involved in certain conflicts, others in others, and what anyone desires or stands for.
Maybe this comes down to the scale- it’s the second most expensive movie ever made because We want more, We want everything, Yes of course we do, and so an intimate and horrific hero’s journey into large-scale genocide (!) is forfeited for more and everything. I remember an interview with an electronic musician who said that with new technologies the artist has every sound, every texture, at her disposal, and so freedom in the creative act only comes about through clearly defined parameters. This will obviously never happen where these films are concerned- where consumers demand and content administrators listen and then bait, generating content that exists to generate interest, interest existing to justify the generation of content, this toxic relationship, this carrot and stick, this perpetual trailer. Tony Stark gets hurt and the whole theatre gasped, I shit you not.
I like what it is for seconds at a time, those seconds where I detect a person behind the curtain, although Infinity War expresses in a very long two and a half hours not a single cinematic idea much less a dramatic, narratological, philosophical one, is loaded with insufferable meta jokes for the kind of people who say I like meta jokes, and is a kind of embarrassing time-capsule in which every scene begins and ends with a bearded guy Doing Things (pointed out via meta joke btw) so if for whatever reason people still watch these things in the future they will look upon Infinity War and say I thought you reached peak beard around the time of Iron Man.